San Diego is home to a number of great restaurants and bars, but if you’ve spent any time Pacific Beach, you’ve likely heard of one of Eric Leitstein’s. The restaurateur runs OMG Restaurant Group (named after his three kids, Olivia, Mason and Gavin) with his wife. Under the OMG umbrella, the Lei steins oversee five restaurants: Pacific Beach Ale House, Vail Ale House, Sandbar Sports Grill and two Union Kitchen & Tap locations; one in the Gaslamp and one in Encinitas. Eric is also a partner in Pacific Beach Fish Shop, as well as two other locations of the fast casual dining spot.
This month, he will unveil Backyard Kitchen & Tap in Pacific Beach, bringing OMG’s number up to six restaurants in San Diego. We talked to Eric a few days before the eatery opened, as he tasted the menu and made final arrangements for a soft opening of the latest addition to his cadre of restaurants.
L’CHAIM Magazine: Wow! You are involved with a lot of restaurants. How are each different, and how are they the same?
Eric Leitstein: Well, they all have a certain quality I guess, or a certain style that fits the Southern California lifestyle, but each restaurant has its own identity I would say. The Fish Shop is what I would call a “fast casual” location, where you order from a counter and your food is brought over to your table, very casual and easy. The other restaurants are a little more formal, but not stuffy.
For instance, Union Kitchen & Tap’s downtown location is a little different from the Encinitas location, particularly because of the areas in which they are located. Pacific Beach is a little different from both of [those areas], so there is a “beach” quality to locations there, and the new space is probably the biggest evolution for me as a restaurateur. It’s something that Pacific Beach has never seen.
L’CHAIM: You’re referring to Backyard Kitchen & Tap, right?
EL: Yes. It’s not your typical bar or restaurant for Pacific Beach, but it fits in there, because there are a lot of places in the area that are starting to notice what people want.
We elevated the menu and the décor for the area, because I think San Diego in general has evolved. I think people’s palates have evolved so much here and they are ready for something new. I think the craft beer movement in San Diego and the craft cocktail industry has changed things so much for the city. Fortunately, I am in this business and we get to embrace this culture, if you will, and we are going to cater to it the best we can in this restaurant/bar formula that we have.
LCHAIM: What are some things that people will notice about Backyard Kitchen & Tap right away?
EL: The atmosphere. A lot of our success has to do with our staff. We just have a great company culture, and attract the type of person that understands that we are very customer oriented, and that I am extremely passionate about this business and what we do.
It’s really in my wheelhouse to do this style of restaurant, where you don’t have to worry about simply meeting people’s needs, but can really focus on exceeding people’s expectations in a casual restaurant, versus a fine dining restaurant where people walk in with a certain level of expectation, we try to give our guests the best we have no matter what. That’s our goal; to create a culinary and beverage experience that is exceptional.
L’CHAIM: What are some signature dishes that guests should definitely try out?
EL: That’s a good question, and there are so many things that are good, but we will have a signature shrimp boil that people are excited about here. We are a coastal menu, so we have a lot of fresh seafood on the menu and really everything tastes really, really good. We have burgers, steaks and seafood; kind of all fitting into this “coastal new American” style of food that we are serving. Of course, we have a lot of beers and cocktails, too.
L’CHAIM: Have you always wanted to be in the restaurant business?
EL: Well, yes. I am originally from New York, and have been in the hospitality business, in hotels, bars and restaurants since I was in college. I moved to San Diego in 1989, and decided to get into management because I knew that was where I wanted to be someday. I really cut my teeth in this business and I think that is why I am so passionate about creating exceptional experiences in dining. I have great managers and leaders that I work with, too, and they understand that.
L’CHAIM: What’s more fun to work in, front of the house or back?
EL: Well, I have experience with both. In college I worked as a line cook, and I have bartended here and there, but I am more of a front of the house guy. It’s a little more fun in the front of the house versus the back, and I like the glory of the front of the house; being able to talk to people.
Backyard Kitchen & Tap is now open at 832 Garnet Ave, Pacific Beach. For more information, visit backyardpb.com.